In London, England on 05 November 2014 it was late autumn / early winter, and the sun set at around 5 pm. Presumably it set at around 5 on 05 November 1605 too. On that day, some 400 years ago, he and a group of others planned to assassinate King James I and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne … by blowing up “the Parliament House with gunpowder”. [I had to look that up, having only a dim memory of what Guy Fawkes night is about, and now finding my vague notions weren’t terribly accurate. Thanks Wikipedia for the write-up.]
Since then 05 November has been a day to give thanks and celebrate the plot’s failure. In Britain there are traditions around burning an effigy (a Guy) on a bonfire and setting off fireworks.
In fact, I suspect that most Kiwis, probably most people in the UK, and maybe folks in other Commonwealth countries, don’t really know much more than that Guy Fawkes, tried to blow up Parliament (in England) several hundred years ago. The whys and wherefores behind the celebration are long forgotten.
Here in New Zealand, half a world away, the fireworks tradition continues. After all, loud bangs and lights in the sky are very exciting and wonderful. I love fireworks displays — or at least, I used to before I had cats and dogs, and before I lived near the top of Mt Victoria in Wellington, New Zealand.
Fortunately a few years ago the law changed to restrict the sale of fireworks, including:
- raising the minimum age for purchasing fireworks to 18 years
- restricting the sale period to four days from 2 November to 5 November
- limiting the decibel level a firework can produce to no more than 90 decibels.
Unfortunately the restrictions don’t seem to make much difference. Around here people start letting off fireworks several days before 05 November and then for weeks, sometimes months afterwards. And since sunset in Wellington at this time of year in late spring is around 8 pm they tend to let them off once it’s dark, from say 9 pm onwards. That doesn’t stop them letting them off in daylight, and it definitely includes loud banging fireworks at midnight, 2 am, 4 am and other incredibly annoying times.
Wellington, like many cities, has a public fireworks display at 9 pm. In the last couple of years this has been shifted from 05 November to the closest fine-weather Saturday night. The public join in with their own fireworks at the top of the hill, occasionally even being civic-minded enough to leave the detritus vaguely near a rubbish bin for someone else to clear away.
Our dog Sasha is terrified of loud banging noises. I think it began a couple of years ago when we heard the loudest clap of thunder ever in a rare thunderstorm. That same year the dogs were in the car when someone smashed into me from behind at a traffic light. Now both thunderstorms and fireworks make her shake uncontrollably and send her hiding under the bed.
I asked the vet for some sedatives for her for fireworks night, and we used them this year. That’s fine for planned displays when we know in advance what’s coming. But the last few nights when we’ve taken her out for a pee before bedtime she wouldn’t go, even when she really needed to. And if she started to think it was safe enough to pee then someone one nearby would happen to set off fireworks and she’d rush inside again.
Honestly, I’m more than over fireworks. It’s not like there aren’t plenty of displays at other times of year: we get them for big rugby matches, Diwali and other celebrations.
Talk to any pet owner, and you’ll likely find they don’t look forward to fireworks season any more than I do. And the Fire Service also end up putting out more than the usual number of fires.
What I’d like to see is no sales at all to the general public. Sales restricted to licensed pyrotechnics professionals and perhaps publicly accountable bodies such as Councils and maybe state schools. Public notice at least 24 hours ahead of any planned display would also be useful.
Honestly, is there any good reason to be selling explosives to the general public these days?
And after all, in New Zealand we’re half a planet and more than 400 years away from a plot to blow up a monarch. There are many who say it’s no longer relevant or appropriate to maintain such close ties to the UK and a monarch anyway. And I suspect it’s not as if we actually know any longer why we’re setting off fireworks. We just enjoy the lights and the loud.
If we need to celebrate something with fireworks, then how about something that’s ours, such as Matariki in mid-winter when we all welcome some cheering up, or the Treaty of Waitangi?
Fireworks night is a relic we can do without. Let’s set it aside, but most of all, let’s get the dangerous explosives off the streets and hilltops.